Fantasy in YA Fiction

I grew up with an incredible love of high fantasy. How exciting to experience another world, where people often wielded swords and fought with magic! Early on, I consumed the Chronicles of Narnia, and I was obsessed with a number of other novels now out of print, but that featured worlds I could only ever visit in a book. In my late teens, the Lord of the Rings made its movie debut. I read the trilogy, and although it sometimes seemed to go forever, I couldn’t stop until I’d completely absorbed them. That’s when I made the distinction that a fantasy must always be longer, for the reader is completely at the mercy of an entirely new and foreign world. Most recently, I’ve delved in to the world of Game of Thrones, interspersed through my reading of younger fare, and yep…it’s pretty mature! But once again, my mind is intrigued and challenged by the intricacies of this unfamiliar world. So, for my fellow fantasy lovers, below are three of the YA fantasies I’ve read over the past year. While none are as innocent as the 1950s Chronicles of Narnia, or as complex as Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, they do hold their own. Graceling by Kristin Cashore This first book in a series about those who are “graced” has all the elements I love. A strong heroine who knows how to fight but also overprotects her heart. A love interest who has the qualities that make a good hero—strength and confidence in fighting, but a heart for family and those who need a champion. The world is intriguing, and kings make good and terrible decisions while dealing with those who are “graced.” Of note…the book has violence, but nothing gratuitous, and talks about a girl’s first night with a boy. It is not explicit, but it may be a little mature for a more advanced Middle Grade Reader. Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson This fantasy felt unique in the fact that it has a Mediterranean feel to it, as opposed to a more Anglican type of society. I loved the almost Spanish influence in it, and the fact that it dived into politics. It covered quite a bit of adult themes concerning power and relationships, but the focus on the “Godstone” and the use of dark magic had some elements of Narnia that I loved. This book has some pretty strong violence in... read more

Isn’t it Platonic: The best things about best friends in MG

The WWAT crew just recently finished Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. It was whimsical and heartfelt, and we all had things we really enjoyed about it. What gave me the most warm-fuzzies was the friendship between Micah and Jenny. They were a perfect example of opposites attract. Jenny helped keep Micah grounded, while Micah helped Jenny believe…in the magic of the circus. That’s one of the things I love best about middle grade fiction. In young adult fiction, friendships can get a little lost, or even decimated. As teens, we grow up and out of old friendships as our sense sharpen to a new perspective of the world. And that’s important, I guess. But oh how I love that the friendship in a good middle grade novel can carry a series to stardom. It’s the Harry-Hermione-Ron phenomenon, where the relationship between the main characters attracts the reader beyond the intrigue of the plot and the enchantment of the world building. In a great middle grade novel, if a good friend dies in the story, a little piece of the reader dies with that character. I also love how friendship forces a main character to grow. In Rebecca Stead’s Liars and Spies and R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, friendships motivate the main character to see the world with a little broader lens. It doesn’t demand a paradigm shift, like those in YA literature, but just a slight expansion of one’s horizon. And finally, I love the way a good friend can add necessary comic relief in a dark plot. Blackthorn Key did this with Christopher and Tom. Tom was practical, yet, at the same time, his comments are what made me laugh most often. What’s your favorite “friendship” in middle grade literature? You may have several. As always, the WWAT crew would love to hear about... read more

What’s Write About…Books – 3 reasons why reading is what makes America great!

On this wonderful day we celebrate our country’s independence, I wanted to state on this awesome blog that I believe there are many ways to make America great again, and at the risk of sounding cliché, it comes down to the fact that children are the future. They just are. Scientifically undebatable, that nugget of truth. So, when it comes to strategies on making America great, I believe that our schools and teachers are key. I also believe that reading is neglected far too often. To get to the point on this Independence Day (so you can get back to the pastimes of our forefathers – eating hot dogs, boating on the lake, and sunburning , of course), I want to tell you three things books will do for you and your children that are pretty firework-worthy. Books challenge society. A friend of mine recently gave me a list of books that had been banned through the decades. Wow. It was like every classic you’ve ever heard of or read. And you know why? Mostly, it was because they contained information or subject matter that made society uncomfortable. Sometimes, we forget the true value of liberalism. No, it’s not the rhetoric of the far left. In a nutshell, the classic definition of liberalism allows the free flow of ideas so people can make better decisions. Fiction launches new ideas and new ways of thinking about old ideas. And sometimes, it pushes us to consider why we believe what we believe. Books give a real voice to those we prefer to overlook. I just love R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. We still are a society that struggles to understand people with mental or physical differences, instead of embracing that uniqueness. Hollywood doesn’t have many main characters that deal with physical deformity or mental challenges (I just saw the Accountant, and the main character did have autism, but he was also a stone cold killer). Books are not as mainstream as movies, and there’s so much more opportunity there to read (and publish) books about characters who challenge us to reconsider what is truly normal—and special—about people. Books facilitate conversations on difficult subjects. One thing I always encourage parents to do is read the same books their kids are reading. First of all, it sets an example, but even more importantly, it gives you a common jumping off point. I’ll never forget how Hannah E. Harrison’s My Friend Maggie helped me manage conversations... read more

When Nice Guys Finish First

Recently, my critique group read Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Not only did I sit there thinking that Ruby has a special talent for writing things in such a gorgeous way, (and in a truly creative and visceral sense), but I also fell in love with her characters. In particular, I was really taken by Finn. He’s a good kid. A nice kid. And here’s a YA genre spoiler alert: There are not a lot of nice guys out there. Sure, there are sexy romantic types. But most of the heroes are tough or dangerous or tortured or stuck up or filled with sleazy thoughts. And since I myself met my significant other at the age of eighteen—a kind, nice (but still totally sexy) boy—a guy whom I would go on to marry two years later (and am now celebrating 15 years together!!!), I thought I’d like to give a shout out to some of my favorite “nice guys” in YA lit. The Fault in Our Stars – August is special. No doubt, he’s grown up quickly with his dire cancer battle, but the way he relates to Hazel has us all bawling our eyes out at the end of the novel. My Life Next Door – Jase Garrett comes from a big family. But that makes him sensitive, responsible, and totally adorable as he and Samantha fall in love. He’s the kind of boy you just can’t stand for her to hurt. Out of the Easy – Ruta Sepetys always dazzles me with her writing, and this book, which takes place in 1950s New Orleans, is no different. I love the not-so-bad-boy Jesse, who lets us have our motorcycle fantasy while proving he’s really a gentleman under all that sex appeal. So, who are your favorite nice guys? Any YA heroes making your heart beat faster these days by being hot and polite? Because I’m all ears.... read more

Feeding the Monster in Your Story

Our writing group just completed a read through of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (get more thoughts here In this award-winning upper middle grade novel, a monster visits a boy in his dreams (or is it?) to deal with a profound problem. Whether a novel features real monsters (aka…the villain) or a conflict that functions as a monster to the protagonist, it’s important to understand some of the most complex monsters in literature, and how your own writing or reading group can benefit from understanding what drives them. Dracula – The sophisticated monster We all have enjoyed a good James Bond villain. No matter how evil, how sociopathic, there is always something just a little bit charming and erudite that makes this type of “monster” worthy of our heroic opponent. In children and young adult literature, this might qualify as the President Snow (Hunger Games) or other such villains who stay one step of the protagonist, forcing our hero to move out of his or her comfort zone and rise to a higher level. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – The misunderstood monster Some of the best villains are those for whom we feel a certain empathy. People in bad circumstances can either become better versions of themselves, or react to the unfair situation and let it eat away their soul. In Frankenstein, the monster is rejected by its maker and ostracized for its ugliness. This leads to violence and the murder of innocents. We abhor the monster, even as a sort of forced empathy grows from his struggle. A misunderstood monster who changes for the better might be thought of as Beast in Beauty and the Beast. An excellent YA spinoff for that particular story is Alex Finn’s Beastly. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde –The insidious monster Sometimes, you just really want a bad guy. An evil-to-the-bone, maniacal-laughing type of bad guy. Sure, in some cases it might feel a bit “Scooby Doo,” but when you want the audience to really hate someone, then bring on the full out, shameless, laugh-in-your-face-as-he-wields-an-ax bad dude. Timeless villains like Voldemort and Batman’s Joker seem to do the trick here. Sometimes we get a little bit of a melancholy backstory, but usually nothing so significant as to merit the actions of this type of brazen villain. Of course, these three aren’t the only types of successful villains. So next time you’re reading or working on a manuscript, spend some... read more

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